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Nude teens raising eyebrows in Vermont
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (AP) -- Nudity isn't new here. Usually it bares itself in more subtle places than a downtown parking lot, though.
This summer, a group of teenagers has disrobed near restaurants, bookstores and galleries, igniting a debate about whether this bohemian southern Vermont town should ban a practice that has been tolerated until now.
"Brattleboro tends to be a laid-back town and pretty accepting of the unusual, but this is really pushing limits," said Police Chief John Martin.
"It's clearly to outrage people, it's clearly rebelliousness," he said.
By most accounts, the stripping started on a whim in early summer when a young woman sat naked on a park bench, Martin said. Then another woman started taking her shirt off downtown.
A music festival promoting nudity and rebelliousness set up in May in a downtown parking lot and attracted nude hula hoopers, Martin said.
Last month, a half dozen young people bared their bodies in the lot, encircled by the backs of bookstores, coffee shops and restaurants.
They say they're just exercising their rights.
"It's just an act of freedom," said 19-year-old Adhi Palar. "We're just doing so because we can." Palar and the others "do not consider nakedness to be innately sexual or rude and it shouldn't be confined to that," he said.
All the bare skin has raised eyebrows, even in a town that has seen clothing-optional swimming holes, streakers and an event known as "Breast Fest," which featured women parading topless.
To some, a bunch of teenagers going au naturel is just harmless rebellion.
"To most people, it's not a big deal," said Catherine Kauffman, 57, who calls Brattleboro "a don't-take-away-too-many-of-my-rights kind of town."
Rich Geidel, 50, co-owner of Everyone's Books, said the parking lot may not be the most appropriate place for nudity, but he said he's not concerned.
"We don't think it's bad for kids to hang out," he said. "As long as people are polite, don't block the entrance, we don't ask them to leave."
To others, it's disturbing. Some worry it could drive business away from downtown.
"It's a bad image for Brattleboro," said Ozzie Kocaoglu, 43, who owns Sundried Tomato restaurant at the far end of the parking lot, which has long been a teen hangout.
Vermont has no state laws against public nudity, but communities can pass their own rules banning it.
At least eight cities and towns have passed anti-nudity ordinances, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
So far, Brattleboro has chosen not to, but the teenagers' dress-down may change that. The town is researching what other communities have done to curb their nakedness.
The 50,000-member American Association for Nude Recreation espouses nude recreation in appropriate places, but doesn't use nudity "for social commentary, or rebelliousness or an act of civil disobedience," said Mary Jane Kolassa.
Baring it all as a form of social protest is growing.
This summer, nude bicyclists rode through Burlington to protest the country's reliance on oil, part of an event known as the World Naked Bike Ride. Elsewhere, nudity has been used to oppose the Iraq war and the treatment of animals.
In Vermont, voters in another town shot down a ban on nudity after two public votes.
Prompted by complaints about nudity and sexual activity at a swimming hole, the Wilmington select board passed an anti-nudity ordinance in 2002. But supporters of the freedom to skinny dip rejected the ban.
"There were some ugly moments in the debate with some name calling and lots of good healthy debate about reasonable rights and responsibility under those rights," said Town Clerk Susie Haughwout. Officials weren't sure how they would have enforced a ban and to what extent, she said.
For now Brattleboro is weighing its options. And waiting for summer to turn to fall.
"As soon as winter comes, there won't be a story anymore," said Town Clerk Annette Cappy.
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